Football and disability: how does the game become more inclusive?

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Yussif Ahmed Heath plays football in the Qatar Foundation’s Ability-Friendly program. He enjoys playing the game, even though his body doesn’t always cooperate with him. The 11-year-old was born with cerebral palsy-hemiplegia, which causes paralysis on one side of the body, but still finds great joy on the pitch. That joy turned into exuberance recently when he met retired footballing legend David Beckham at Education City in Doha.

“He was good. You know he’s an England player? And he was great,”

Congratulations from Yussif for the 47-year-old who answered questions from the kids and participated in a series of football drills and a penalty shootout. The former Manchester United and England international may have been the special guest. Yet, Yussif quickly caught the attention of everyone present at the special event organized by the Qatar Foundation. The program was born from the idea that football, like most sports, still needs to make progress when it comes to being accessible to players with disabilities.

“It’s understanding that you have to have small groups and respond to small groups, for their needs.

I’ve had [Yussif] smiling for five minutes after an hour, and you say, “Well, he might not want to, but at least he went from being away to today by being here for five minutes” , explained Ryan Moignard, a football specialist with special needs. Coach at the Qatar Foundation.

“Hopefully tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we can do 10 minutes.”

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The program focuses on six main ability groups.

Autism

learning difficulties

Visual impairments

Hearing impairments

Deaf

Physical impairments

The ability-appropriate program has 175 participants with many names on a waiting list. While many players are children, the program is inclusive, with the oldest participant in their mid-50s. The foundation offers a unique program called “Coaching the Coach”. Participation in this program encourages coaches to become confident around handicapping, which helps them deliver athletic training to a variety of abilities.

“Ideally, if we can put someone in a comfortable environment, the room is suitable for them. The equipment is also suitable for them, and then, as a coach, you are sure that you can deliver things,” added Moignard.

The next FIFA World Cup can be a great catalyst for change by improving accessibility in football. As the world’s attention turns to Qatar, 2022 will be the year when disabled fans can enjoy games the same way as everyone else.

Brooke Reid, Qatar Foundation’s engagement and activation manager, said a lot of planning had been done to ensure a barrier-free experience for fans would make this the most accessible international sporting event in the world. the story.

“The beauty of Qatar 2022 is that accessibility has been central to how it has been planned and developed,” she said. “So there is an accessibility forum that QF is part of – stadiums, infrastructure, hotels and the fan experience, making sure everyone has an equal chance to enjoy games and his time in Qatar.”

The Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy strives to achieve success on and off the field as part of its commitment to social sustainability. The tournament hopes to ensure an “accessible 2022 FIFA World Cup for people with disabilities and reduced mobility while facilitating the accessibility of physical infrastructure, public transport and services in Qatar”.

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Even as stars like Harry Kane, Kevin de Bruyne and Neymar claim glory, the 2022 World Cup could leave a lasting legacy of inclusion and change for the disabled community around the world.

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